Got gas?

There’s this group of addicts whose habit has been discussed openly, but they’ve never been too serious about dealing with it. In fact, in the last several years they’ve started partaking more in an almost wonton fashion. Unfortunately, this last year their substance-of-choice has gotten really expensive and it’s crimping their lifestyle. They now feel they’re “victims” and demand recompense because they’re addicted… to gasoline.

Demanding the government get involved scares me. Emerging proposals have ranged from the totally stupid “$100 tax rebate,” just in time for mid-term elections, to the big business wet dream of repealing environmental regulations… to clean up all those envirotoxins underneath our national parks. Holy short-term placation, Batman!

At a recent press event, senators Sununu, DeMint, Nelson, Menendez, and Bayh departed in vehicles whose fuel economies were 14, 15, 14, 14, and 14 mpg, respectively. While it would be easy to make fun of this, I will point out that they’re just representing their constituencies. Consider that the four selling vehicles for March 2006 were the Ford F-series (14mpg), Chevrolet Silverado (15mpg), Toyota Camry (20 mpg), and Dodge Ram (12 mpg).

Paraphrasing Jane Galt, the market for gasoline is odd for a few reasons:

  • Bad fuel economy isn’t a strong impediment to vehicle choice. Last month fuel prices were averaging $2.45/gallon. As noted above, three of the top four vehicles sold get 15mpg or less per gallon. Clearly the improbable need to tow 7,000 pounds up a steep, alpine overlook is strong enough that people will buy the Humscalade and take it on the more likely trip to Starbucks for the $4 venti caramal macchiato “with room.”
    Jeeze, people, buy a Ford Focus instead. Or walk.
  • We buy oil from questionable sources — Iraq (No government), Iran (coping with its energy glut by building nuclear power, possibly weapons), Nigeria (still trying to free up the 100 Million United States Dollars), Venezuela (nationalizing its oil production), Saudi Arabia (funding radicals), etc.
    Don’t get me started on the refining capacity issues.
  • There are few good substitutes for gas that will power our big-ass metal cages. Hydrogen takes a lot of energy to produce. Ethanol is a solvent. Biodiesel… I can’t go there. None of these can succeed until there’s a distribution mechanism in place.
  • Public transportation isn’t that good on the west coast. Our bus system drops off a lot once you get out to the suburbs. Even with Chris Smoak’s BusMonster and the Metro Trip Planner, the best I could do was a three bus hop from my house to work, taking 20 minutes more than I can bike the route. In practice, if I were serious about the bus option, I’d bike to the park & ride, take the bus from there. Still, it’s a 10 minute diversion.

This is one of those cases where the solution seems to be stop meddling and let market forces do their thing versus imposing some Nixonian price controls. If gas prices remain high, people will adjust their behaviors or deal with it until other competitors move in. Eventually the mess should sort itself out.

5 thoughts on “Got gas?”

  1. I continue to be amazed that while the media is beating the “gas prices up again” drum every 15 minutes, I see no evidence of anyone modifying behavior. The large proportion of the cars on the freeway are speeding, I see jackrabbit starts at every traffic light, and folks are all driving around alone (and talking on their cell phones, probably complaining to friend and family about the cost of their last fill-up). We bicycled the Lake Washington Loop yesterday, and the 1/4 mile lineup to exit the Arboretum at Madison was at least 70% SUV’s with one occupant. $3+ per gallon is apparently well within the threshold of pain for America. I wonder what the threshold will end up being: $5?

  2. I’m happy when gas prices go up. I only wish they were going up because we raised gas taxes, rather than throwing it at the oil companies.

  3. Via marriage, I became the dubious co-owner of a Nissan X-Terra. At best, I think we get 20 MPG on the freeway, and that’s nothing to write home about. We drive rarely, ride our bikes when and wherever we can, and are trying not to drive at all in the month of May.

    I agree with the above comment, too. Even with our current car, I WANT gas prices to be upward of five bucks a gallon, though I’d prefer if the money were going toward something more useful than the CEOs of Shell and Texaco. Either way, I think that prohibitively high gas prices should force people to evaluate their driving NEEDS versus their driving realities. I know plently of people who give me shit about the SUV, but who drive everywhere, while I leave the car at home. I might just be justifying in order to make myself feel better, but I think it has less to do with the car you own and more to do with your priorities, and how willing you are to make a lifestyle choice.

    I’m only four days into the month, but I’ve biked over 40 miles, and walked uphill to the grocery store three times. I got a membership to Flexcar, and I know the bus schedules, too. Let the price of gas go up. If money is the only thing Americans understand, hit ’em where it hurts.

    In the mean time, does anybody wanna swap a Prius for a shiny black SUV?

  4. Well, I am glad I get 30+ MPG on my Camry. Problem is that I drive 35 miles to work one way. If I bike to work, it would take forever since Atlanta has yet to have bike paths but they are working on it.

  5. I’d also love to see gas prices (be taxed) northward of $5-per-gallon, but before that happens, I’d like to see large amounts of money earmarked for earnest attempts at mass-transit – everywhere. Everything from intra-city light-rail to a real nation-wide rail service (like Amtrak, only, y’know, well-funded).

    As things currently stand, gas prices that high (from what oil-companies claim is competition or from taxes) would kneecap our economy. Maybe that’s ultimately a good thing – shrinking the distance people need to travel a bit certainly would help the environment a ton – but its impact on interstate shipping alone would be devastating for our consumerist society, to say nothing of our actual needs, like well-stocked hospitals or food on the table. (And just try to get an elected official to do something they know will be bad for the economy! If you think getting them to do anything that will help is hard….)

    But that aside, mostly I just want to echo Scout’s offer to trade the Xterra – which is a beaut, btw – for a Prius. If you’re tired of being green (like Kermit – a friggin Muppet!) and all you is desire is the passive, unsafe driving experience that only an SUV can provide, boy, have I got a deal for you!

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